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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Christians Caused Crash?

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Read and comment on my blog.

The headline on this month’s issue of The Atlantic piqued my interest. “Did Christianity Cause the Crash? How Preachers Are Spreading a Gospel of Debt,” it read. I couldn’t wait to dig in. I wasn’t far into the article, however, before I discovered that here was no far-reaching indictment of Christian economics. Instead, it was an article linking the preaching of the so-called prosperity gospel to foreclosures and rampant consumer debt.

Let me digress for a moment to deplore the use of questions in headlines to make them sound sensational. In this case, the headline makes it seem as if their is some kind of energetic debate among economists about the role of Christianity in the global economic crisis. If there is such a debate, the author never mentions it. Instead, the question seems to be addressed to readers, as if the readers might be better informed about the topic than the journalist or as if forming an opinion based on the limited information available in the article is just as valid as forming one based on extensive research into the facts. I see more and more of this kind of headline, for example, “Is Google the New Evil Empire?” I don’t know; you tell me.

The article in The Atlantic contains a good summary of prosperity gospel teaching and its origins and principle advocates. Nevertheless, the author, Hanna Rosin, produces only one salient fact connecting the crash to the prosperity gospel:

“Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor.”

To make the leap from this kind of correlation to the causation suggested in the headline requires more faith than I can muster. The causes of the crash have been well established: cheap credit, subprime loans, consumer overconfidence, corporate greed in the financial system, speculation in risky investments. Into this mix we now throw a few preachers assuring people that God wants them to have piles of money. Did those preachers tip the scales and cause the crash? Wasn’t their influence relatively minor in comparison with the pervasive cultural pressures to leverage debt and look successful?

The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all. It winks at greed and makes poverty a sin. There is nothing in it of Jesus’ compassion for the poor and suffering and nothing in it of the kind of self-sacrifice that has characterized Christians down through the ages. There is simply no scriptural warrant for believing that God wants to bless Christians in general with financial success. The riches of his kingdom, freely available to all, are not the kind that gather dust in a safety deposit box. They are spiritual treasures stored up in heaven for those who value the pursuit of his kingdom above every other concern, even their own life.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles condemned the rich for their wealth, nor did they criticize the poor for their poverty. They warned the rich against trusting in their wealth, and they comforted the poor with promises of riches in eternity. The apostles were realists. They knew that not everyone could become rich. They knew that those who make wealth their goal “fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). Much as I would like to have a little more money, especially now that I am unemployed, I prefer not having to deal with ruin and destruction. Life is more than money. Much more.

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Fort Hood Rampage

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The news coming out of Fort Hood is shocking. Soldiers killed and wounded by one of their own. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those killed and wounded. No words can console them; they are bereft.

Tomorrow the pundits and analysts will start in. We will hear again about the need for gun control legislation and about our Constitutional rights. Major Hasan’s motives will be examined, and some will wonder why no one saw him as a threat. There will be proposals to beef up security at our military bases. Some of the proposals might even do some good. Some will seize on Maj. Hasan’s evident Muslim faith as a probable factor. Others will point to the majority of Muslims throughout the world who just want to live and let live.

No matter what comes out, however, about Maj Hasan’s motives, we should keep two facts in mind: We cannot guarantee anyone’s safety, and we don’t want a society that values safety above freedom.

We certainly ought to take all reasonable precautions to protect our service members. If we can prevent a recurrence of what happened at Fort Hood, let’s do it. We need to realize, however, that an open society will always also be dangerous. We could (theoretically) have a benevolent totalitarian society where the government provides protection for everyone. No one has guns except the government. No one can move from place to place without official permission. We give up every privacy and all our self-determination in exchange for safety and control. As individuals, we face these same choices all the time. We can accept responsibility for our actions and remain a danger to ourselves and others, or we can cede control to others who declare that they have our best interests at heart and let them tell us what to do.

One of the reasons why we still like hero stories—movies about tough good guys and rule-breaking bad-asses with hearts of gold—is that we value freedom above safety. I think all humans are like this, though there are differences in degree from culture to culture. What we seldom realize is that in opting for freedom over safety, we are also choosing hardship and suffering over comfort and ease. Even those of us who lead lives of relative ease, do so by offering our sons and daughters, our friends and companions, those among us who are willing to fight and risk death in order to preserve our freedoms. They buy our right to safety and comfort. Usually the price is low: a few years of service with good pay and benefits and moderate risk. Sometimes it is high: traumatic injury, mental disorder, physical and emotional scars. Occasionally it is exorbitant: death.

Freedom isn’t free. It’s not free in the political world, and it’s not free in the spiritual world. Some of us must suffer and even die to maintain our freedoms. We don’t get to choose who among us will be the ones to pay. So everyone must be ready.

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